Conference Call Etiquette: 9 DOs, DON’Ts, and “Oh, no you didn’t!”s

by Kristen King on June 5, 2009

conference call(www.inkthinkerblog.com) — As a freelancer who largely refuses to attend face-to-face meetings, I spend a lot of my time on conference calls, especially during government proposal season (approximately May-August). Here are some of my favorite conference call musts, must-nots, and you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-mes from my experience and other freelancers’ recommendations.

1. Distribute a clear agenda in advance of the call and stick to it

Make sure all call participants know exactly what’s expected of the, and what will be covered and decided during the call to maximize the time available. Betsy Garman, publications and distance learning specialist at AACC, advises assigning roles ahead of time as well so people know what agenda points they’re responsible for. And don’t neglect the tech. “If you’re the call leader, be familiar with the technology — especially if you’re recording the call or using a moderator provided by the call company,” she says. Photographer Andrew Deci echoes Garman’s advice. “Conference calls are always better when there is a clearly identified ‘moderator,’ someone who can direct responses and ask questions,” Deci says.

2. Send the dial-in number, pass code, and instructions multiple times

Make sure you include any access details when you announce the call, when you send out the agenda, and the day of or the day before the call to make sure everyone has what they need to get on the line.

3. Always identify yourself when you’re speaking

Whether there’s one person on the phone or a dozen, everyone on site and conferencing in should say who they are at opening of every comment. Says freelancer Elizabeth Sheley, “Speakers should err on the side of over-identifying themselves.” If I can’t see you, I have no idea who’s talking which means that I can’t follow up with you later on questions. It’s also just good manners.

4. Limit or eliminate background noise as a caller

Newsflash, folks: If you’re not muted, others can hear you eating, burping, tearing paper, and yelling at your kids or pets. Kelly, a writer who tweets as @writelikeamutha, adds, “I’m sure someone said not to pee [while on a conference call]. You can hear it.” Sheley, mentioned in No. 3, also suggests confining pets who fancy themselves as helpful to another room or the great outdoors.

Remember, the mute button is your friend…if you know how to use it properly. “Make sure the mute is REALLY on before you call the other party a little s–t,” says writer Paula Whyman. “This really happened.” But, cautions Garman, mentioned in No. 1, don’t mute the call on hold if you have a background music service, because then everyone else will be subjected to your hold music (which, if you ask me, is probably better than being subjected to your potty mouth unless your hold music is something like “Baby Got Back”). Speaking of which, don’t forget to turn off any computer or cell phone tones that may ring out mid-call. “Check your audio so you don’t share those pesky TweetDeck update beeps,” advises Jo Golden of Chaos to Clarity.

5. Limit or eliminate background noise as an on-site participant

The same rules go for participants in the conference room on the other end. If you’re whispering amongst yourselves, we can all hear you; take it outside or shut up. Turn off your cell or put it on vibrate and don’t answer it until you’re out of the room. If the conference call is headquartered in a high-traffic area, close the door. It’s very distracting to hear the mail cart clattering by amid echoing laughter in the corridor. Oh, and can we talk about why you shouldn’t tap or bang on the table that’s holding the phone/conference speaker or the phone or speaker itself? Yes, sliding papers and books across or into these items counts. Knock it off.

6. Speak loudly and clearly

This one sounds like kind of a no brainer, but as every conference call I participate in bears out, it requires frequent repetition. Those calling in: Speakerphone may be handy when it comes to allowing you to take notes, but if the speaker is across the room from where you’re sitting, no one can hear you when you try to comment. Those on-site: The farther you are away from the conference device, the louder you need to be for others to hear you.

7. If you don’t have anything to add, don’t add anything

When the facilitator asks, “Any more comment / questions / problems / whatever?” don’t say a word unless you actually have one. Enough said.

8. End the call on time

I cannot tell you how many calls I’ve been on where I was told to allow 2-3 hours and the conference actually lasted more like 6. There is no excuse for (a) not sticking to the time you told everyone to allot or (b) having a 6-hour conference call. Get a grip, people. And see No. 7. It will cut the time down.

9. Close with clear next steps

The only thing worse than a never-ending conference call is a never-ending conference call that doesn’t go anywhere when it’s over. Assuming that you had the call for a specific reason and stated what that reason was and what the call was to accomplish (see No. 1), there should be something else happening now that the call is over. Make sure everyone knows what that is, whether it’s summarizing notes, meeting in smaller groups, or beginning / continuing work on whatever the project may be.

Those are my biggies for conference call etiquette, and a few mishaps along the way. What are your biggest peeves and gaffes?

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Kaarin June 6, 2009 at 3:05 pm

This is such a great article!
More needs to be written about professional etiquette!
I overheard two people talking about how their dogs barked at each other through the phone lines while on a conference call. They both thought it was adorable. I thought, “I’m SO GLAD I don’t work with you!” That type of situation can really harm a person’s professional image and do damage to credibility.

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Des Walsh June 7, 2009 at 3:33 pm

Great post. It’s so painful when the moderator is trying to get someone to mute themselves so we can’t hear the conversation we’re having with someone else or the dog barking and because they’re being thoughtless in the first place they don’t seem to realize that yes, it’s them the moderator is talking to!

Des Walsh´s last blog post..Gary Vaynerchuk Videos as Social Media Consulting Filter

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Lori June 8, 2009 at 7:02 am

Debates. I hate when two alpha people get into debates – virtual pissing matches – in order to carry out either an old grudge or a new one. Ridiculous behavior, but it happens more often than not.

How about if you schedule a conference call and you’re the moderator, try showing up? I was left hanging twice by the same person. Worse, another writer was hanging there with me, so I was forced to make conversation with someone who had an oversized ego and wanted me to know HE was the authority. And when the moderator finally showed on the third call, he chewed her out right then and there. Not cool. Okay, she was wrong, but you take that outside the call. It was pretty clear Mr. Pompous had no manners despite his insinuation that he did.

Lori´s last blog post..Close the Door, Open Another

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JamesD June 11, 2009 at 12:52 pm

Thanks for the useful info. It’s so interesting

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Traci Feit Love June 13, 2009 at 10:01 am

These are great tips. I think the most important one is to have someone who’s in charge of the call. There has to be one person (not a committee or even two people) leading the discussion or the call will degenerate into a confusing mess.

Traci Feit Love´s last blog post..Three All Important Questions for You

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Jo August 1, 2011 at 10:55 am

Good article.

One final conference call tip I recently heard which made me laugh but worth sharing………..

Do not sit on a leather chair. Ever.

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